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German researchers devise autonomous CARGO train

NGT CARGO concept. Source: DLR

The DLR Next-Generation Transport project aims to get freight back on the rails

Researchers at the German Aerospace Centre (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt [DLR]) have unveiled new concept design for freight trains. Dubbed the NGT CARGO, the concept aims to up the use of rail freight by increasing its appeal to business.

The design includes a high level of automation, intelligent handling and high speeds. “In this way,” the researchers say, “rail freight transportation can be made more flexible and the capacity of the system can be increased.”

Because road remains the preferred method of freight transport, there has not been a transition to lower-carbon rail as intended. At the same time, freight traffic continues to increase – in Germany it is expected to grow by 40% by 2030.

“This makes it all the more important that we develop innovative logistics, production and vehicle concepts such as NGT CARGO, to exploit the societal, ecological and economic benefits of rail freight transport,” commented DLR researcher Joachim Winter, who leads the Next Generation Train (NGT) project.

NGT CARGO trains are made up of single wagons and powerful end cars, automatically coupled together as required. This allows for flexible goods movement, with fewer resources and personnel. These wagons also have a separate drive based on electric motors and a battery fed by a regenerative braking system.

In contrast to the wagons currently in use, NGT CARGO wagons will be enclosed and aerodynamically covered. There will be no gaps between the single wagons, reducing wind resistance and generating less noise.

“Freight transport is currently dominated by block trains that are not shunted and that use a large number of wagons to carry large, standard volumes of freight from point A to point B,” said Winter. Because wagons must be coupled and uncoupled, moving them is time-consuming and, according to DLR, accounts for 30-40% of the overall cost of rail freight. That means up to five days may be required to make the personnel, material and routes available.

The CARGO system allows single wagons to shunt autonomously, without the need for staff and shunting locomotives or overhead lines. Furthermore, the individual wagons can travel the final kilometres to the respective customer automatically and autonomously. Each single wagon is equipped with the appropriate sensors to do so.

Concept CARGO depot. Source: DLR
Concept CARGO depot. Source: DLR

On the wagon

At high speeds the NGT CARGO single wagons form a unit and are combined with one or two end cars to form a complete locomotive. The end cars provide the necessary drive, and with appropriate infrastructure, speeds of up to 400 kilometres per hour are “conceivable,” although existing lines, would likely see up to 160 or 200 kmh

Multiple locomotives can be combined virtually during travel (called dynamic coupling). By doing so they form a block train, although they are not physically coupled to one another.

They could also be coupled with another NGT project – the HST high-speed passenger train –enabling both passenger and goods transportation at the same time and raising overall efficiency on the line.

Following the unveiling of the NGT CARGO project, the DLR researchers are now working on developing a detailed logistics and operating concept, designing terminals and unloading sites and improving the vehicle architecture and drive concept.


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